Chinook Days: A gusty gathering returns to Spearfish

Chinook Days returns this week and next, with a lead up to the 79th anniversary of the weather event that put Spearfish in the record books. Pioneer file photo

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SPEARFISH — The third annual Chinook Days celebration in Spearfish kicks off this week with a wealth of weathery fun.

Chinook winds, named for the Native Americans who live along the Pacific Coast, are warm, moist pockets of air that blow off of the Pacific Ocean. As the winds move up and across the Rockies, the cold mountain air freezes the moisture it’s carrying, making it denser. Most of the frozen moisture falls as rain and snow across the Rocky Mountains, but as gravity works to pull the denser air down the eastern slopes, the winds pick up speed and the air becomes energized and heated. By the time the Chinook winds reach the plains on the eastern side of the Rockies, the air they carry could be as much as 50 degrees warmer than that of the area they’re moving into. That is exactly what happened in Spearfish on Jan. 22, 1943 when, in the span of two minutes, the temperature skyrocketed from  -4 degrees, to +45 degrees. That dramatic increase landed the city of into the Guinness Book of World Records for the “fastest recorded temperature change.” By 9 a.m., thermometers in Spearfish read 54 degrees, but as the Chinook died down, the needle dropped back down to -4 in just 27 minutes, shattering windows and flash freezing vehicles.

To comemorate Spearfish’s memorable meteorological moment, a weeklong series of Chinook inspired events is planned for the days leading up to its anniversary. Now in it’s third year, Chinook Days looks to be bigger, and better than ever.

“Year one was kind of, ‘what is this event, we’re trying to get it off the ground, we’ll see what people think,’ year two was, ‘we want the event to continue, but its in the middle of COVID so we want to be safe,’ and year three, I think people understand the event, we’re getting more buy in and a lot of support so we think this will be a pretty big year and I think it will continue to grow after that as well,” said Patrick Williams, one of the event coordinators.

The Chinook shenanigans start with a kick-off concert at the Matthews Opera House at 7:30 p.m., on Friday by JAS Quintet featuring Jami Lynn.

“The Matthews has been one of our main collaborative partners from year one and we’ve tried to host an event at the Matthews Opera House as part of that event every year,” Williams said.

On Saturday, the Grooming Alliance of Spearfish and the Nordic club will do their best to set up a winter play park at Big Hill for a Winter Carnival, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“That one’s a lot of fun, other than the lack of snow,” Williams said with a laugh. “It’s going to happen with snow or not.”

Williams said winter games would include events that can be done no matter the snow accumulation including keg pulls on bike and skies, kids games, slow bike rides, and dad mushing, where parents can pull their kids on inner tubes while wearing snowshoes.

“Whether there’s snow or not, we’re still throwing a party up at Big Hill,” he assured. “That’s kind of what made the world record event notable in the first place was the variability that we get with some of the weather around hear. But that kind of makes it fun to have that unknown piece as well.”

The next day, on Jan. 16, Killian’s will host its second winter Luau party to commemorate that fact that Spearfish’s record setting weather event started, with a heat wave.

“We like to do both sides of it, you just don’t know what you’re going to get year over year,” Williams said. “With COVID, we kind of focused all of our efforts on outdoor events so we didn’t do it last year, but it’s back again this year.”

Scheduled for Jan. 17, a Chinook Days Plunge event was scheduled, where community members could bid online to “plunge” city leaders into the pool at the Holiday Inn, but that event had to be canceled due to lack of participants willing to take the dive.

On Jan. 19, at 5:30 p.m., a pub crawl will be held.

Jan. 21, the Chinook Days celebration continues at 1p.m., with snow sculpting downtown at the intersection of Hudson and Main Streets.

“Last year it was pretty warm out as well and we were still able to get quite a few snow forms downtown,” Williams said. “We harvest snow a couple of days before the event.”

Williams said he and some other volunteers drive a trailer up Spearfish Canyon and fill box forms with snow, then through the freeze thaw cycle of a few days the forms become sculptable. Sculpting is free on a first come first serve basis, judges from the Matthew’s Opera House will be observing the event for a snow sculpting competition, contest winners will be announced shortly after 4 p.m.

On Saturday, Jan. 22, to celebrate the day Spearfish made into the record books, the Northern Hills Chinook Hockey Club with host its first ever Iron Creek Classic Pond Hockey Tournament.

“Last year they named their club, or their team ‘The Chinooks’ which we were obviously in support of, we thought that was cool,” Williams said. “We tried to pull off, last year, a tournament at the campground ice rink, but there were restrictions for COVID stuff for gatherings on city properties, so that kind of fell through.”

This year the tournament will take place at Iron Creek Lake near Lead. It will be a three-on-three format on four rinks, beginning at 9 a.m.

Saturday night, the Chinook Days countdown of events kicks off with the ChinookFest BeerFest and bonfire.

“It’s fun that the 22nd is actually the date of the world record anniversary of the temperature change, but it actually falls on a Saturday for us here as well, which is great,” Williams said.

“The Chinook event didn’t just happen in Spearfish, it was throughout the Black Hills, but it was just most extreme in Spearfish,” he said. “As the event has kind of grown, the word spread and we wanted to include them as well.”

Festivities will culminate with the lighting of the Chinook Days fish sculpture and, weather permitting, community bonfire.

“That’s kind of part of the puzzle that we try to work in every year is you don’t know the conditions that you’re gonna have on the days of the event and whatnot, so we plan them and adjust accordingly. It could be very could out, it could be 55 degrees, we don’t know.”

Williams said. “It’s a good way to celebrate the music, the craft beer, the outdoor recreation, the arts, just kind of all that stuff our community offers.”

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